It is no exaggeration to say that thousands of people came out on Saturday to cheer for Olympic gold medalist Kaitlyn Farrington. Everyone turned out to welcome home the Snowboard Halfpipe champion and to let her know just how proud of our hometown girl we all are.
On a late winter’s afternoon, the band Freeway Revival played while the enthusiastic crowd enjoyed a tasty barbecue and drink specials provided by Sun Valley on the patio outside Warm Springs Lodge. At 4 p.m., it was showtime as well-wishers, packed tight from the Lodge, across the bridge, and onto the lower slopes of Lower Warm Springs, turned their eyes toward the mountain for the colorful downhill parade that announced Kaitlyn was coming
First, instructors from the Sun Valley SnowSports School put on a spectacle, serpentining and criss-crossing their way to the bottom of the hill. Sun Valley’s winter Olympians and Olympic coaches followed. The fine people representing Sun Valley included former Olympians Chuck Ferries, Jonna Mendes, Reggie Crist, Abbi Fisher-Gould and Sondra Van Ert. Snowboard coaches from the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF), the program in which Kaitlyn grew up and remains a Gold Team member, Kaitlyn’s family and friends then preceded Sun Valley’s sweetheart. The SVSEF’s Jody Zarkos called play-by-play action leading up to the big moment when Kaitlyn rode the slope into the crush of her fervent fans. Scooped up by Whiz McNeal and Sean Glaccum of Sun Valley Ski Patrol, Kaitlyn, American flag in hand, was carried triumphantly to a stage in front of Warm Springs Lodge, where for the next hour, she was feted and celebrated and laden with gifts.
Kaitlyn hopped onto the stage and surveying the scene (and it was a scene) commented, “Holy cow! I can’t believe the crowd that is here today!” Jody replied, “You earned this crowd,” and from there the celebration began in earnest.
Setting the tone for the procession of luminaries who came to honor Kaitlyn, Idaho state Senator Michelle Stennett (D-Ketchum), took to the stage to read a proclamation in her honor from the Office of Governor Butch Otter. The proclamation concluded, “Kaitlyn has achieved her goals with inspiring success. She has been an ambassador for Idaho and taught the world how to cowgirl up.”
Next, Ketchum mayor Nina Jonas said, “Kaitlyn embodies everything we hope and believe and try to be,” and jokingly offered her a necklace in trade for the impressive gold disc that hung around Kaitlyn’s neck.
Chris Koch, mayor Bellevue, Kaitlyn’s hometown in the Wood River Valley, renamed a portion of the bike path in her honor.
1998 Olympian snowboarder Barrett Christy, a friend and mentor to Kaitlyn, put the accomplishment in perspective. “The sport has progressed so much in the past five years with the level of women in snowboarding growing tremendously. Kaitlyn is responsible for that,” she said and continued, “You can’t learn attitude from a coach and that is what Kaitlyn has that sets her apart from the rest. That and her amazing style. That can’t be taught. It’s who she is.”
SVSEF snowboard coach Andy Gilbert kept the accolades coming. “Kaitlyn is a true original and always has been,” he enthused. “She has always been willing to work hard. In fact, her work ethic is second to none.” He, too, gave a nod to Kaitlyn’s style, calling her an “innovative rider” and simply saying how very, very proud he is of her.
During the few days Kaitlyn had at home (she left Sunday for her next competition), she made time to ride with local children, giving them the thrill of a lifetime. As Jody Zarkos said, “Kaitlyn’s ability to take obstacles and turn them into stepping stones,” truly inspired up-and-coming riders. Rob Clayton, executive director of the SVSEF, agreed that what Kaitlyn teaches by example is invaluable. Calling her the “gem of the Gem State,” Rob said, “We tell our kids, ‘see that necklace that is hanging around her neck? You can have it around your neck, too, and in the same color if you work really, really hard like Kaitlyn did.’”
Everyone showed their appreciation for Kaitlyn with gifts that included a necklace in the shape of the state of Idaho from Jonas, an engraved golf putter and lessons (evidently she’s working on her game) from Koch and a standup paddle board for the off-season from Clayton.
But the biggest gift and a highlight of the ceremony came when Sun Valley General Manager Tim Silva took to the microphone. After reading a heartfelt letter of congratulations to Kaitlyn from Sun Valley Resort owner Carol Holding, he and Mountain Manager Peter Stearns upped the ante. From Sun Valley, Kaitlyn was awarded a lifetime season’s pass and was presented with a huge rectangular gift wrapped in gold paper. Inside? A new sign reading “Kaitlyn’s Bowl.” The golden girls’ name will now grace the Bowl on Baldy formerly known as Farout Bowl.
Finally, Kaitlyn returned to the podium simply to thank her hometown supporters. “It is my pleasure to be up here today and I am so thankful for it all,” she said. “Thank you for believing in me and thank you for helping me get to the Olympics. I want to share it all with you and share this gold medal with you.”
The crowd went wild.
The celebration continued well into the evening with a street party, more live music, great food and the raffling off of a new GNU snowboard autographed by Kaitlyn.
A great time was had by all.
Congratulations, Kaitlyn. Thank you for letting us share your moment in the sun.